MEMORY LANE: Touched by tragic fire death of five children

FLASHBACK: The Mail's report and picture of the De Baggis family in January 1955.

FLASHBACK: The Mail's report and picture of the De Baggis family in January 1955.

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FIVE children died a horrific death, trapped in a bedroom when their house was swept by fire after an oil stove exploded in the kitchen.

Their Hartlepool mother, Maureen De Baggis, survived the blaze, along with her youngest child, seven-month-old Diana, and her husband Reggie De Baggis, who had been stationed with the United States Air Force at Greatham during World War II.

Maureen, a typist for West Hartlepool Corporation, had volunteered for canteen work during the war where she met Reggie, who was awarded the European Air Medal, the Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon with Four Service Stars and the World War 11 Victory Medal for his wartime service.

The couple fell in love and were married at St Cuthbert’s RC Church, in Hartlepool, in October 1945, before sailing for the States in 1946 on the Queen Mary to make their home in Franklin, Massachusetts.

They experienced the joy of six children in the next nine years before the night that claimed Shirley, Donald, Margaret, Joan and Regina and destroyed their home.

The tragedy touched the hearts of the people in Franklin, and elsewhere in America and within a few hours of the tragedy a fund was started, which raised more than $20,000, the equivalent of £7,000 at the time and more than enough then to build the family a new home.

In the meantime, the fundraising committee decided a holiday back in Hartlepool would be a tonic for the couple and the Mail spoke to Maureen after the family arrived at the Shakespeare Street home of Maureen’s father, retired signalman Arthur Robinson, the day Diana was seven-months old.

She said: “The fire occurred just before midnight on the Sunday. Within a few hours the unions had pledged money to help us with expenses.

“A newspaper reporter, who was a friend of ours, came to visit us on the Monday afternoon and told us ‘don’t worry about anything’.

“We didn’t know then a fund had been started.”

She said they had no definite plans for their month in Hartlepool but planned to spend it quietly.

“In Franklin they are always asking us about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace but so far I myself have never even seen it!”

The family returned to Franklin, with Diana growing up to give Maureen and Reggie two grandsons and five great grandchildren. The couple later moved to North Conway, New Hampshire, where they ran a copy centre and were active in community organisations. Both survived until they were 84, Reggie passing away in 2008 and Maureen in 2010.

Email andrew.levett@jpress.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.